Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain, Romney Fight to Finish in Florida

Chris Cillizza offers a late snapshot of the GOP race as it comes down to the wire in Florida:

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) spent the last hours of today's Florida primary challenging each other's conservative credentials -- heated rhetoric underscoring the high stakes for each man in the contest.

At stake are 57 delegates to the Republican National Convention and much-coveted momentum heading into Feb. 5 when nearly two dozen states will hold primaries and caucuses. Democrats are also voting today, but the Democratic National Committee has said it will not seat the state's delegation at the party's convention in August because Florida Democrats moved their primary into January in violation of party rules.

McCain hopes to consolidate his front-runner status after important victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, while Romney, the victor in Michigan, Wyoming and Nevada, is determined to make the GOP nomination fight into a two-way contest. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, trail far behind in the polls.

McCain stumped with Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist this morning, making a stop at a polling place in St. Petersburg where he insisted that national security concerns would be the key issue on the minds of Florida voters. Throughout the day, McCain blasted Romney as a flip-flopper on matters of importance to the party base and a liberal masquerading as a conservative.

Romney is counting on his career in business and finance to attract voters concerned about the troubled economy, and sharply criticized McCain's stands on immigration, energy policy and campaign finance reforms. "Those [stands] are not the kind of leadership that we need as we go forward," Romney declared.

Even as McCain and Romney battled in television commercials and automated phone calls, Giuliani seemed resigned to a third-place finish and perhaps a quick exit from the field. Giuliani skipped the early primaries and caucuses to concentrate his effort and resources on scoring a big victory in Florida, the fourth largest state with a diverse population that includes many transplanted New Yorkers.

Yet Giuliani, who once led the Republican field in the national polls, has steadily lost ground in Florida as McCain and Romney scored victories elsewhere, and late polling seemed to show him relegated to third place, just ahead of Huckabee.

That same data suggested a very close contest for first place between Romney and McCain. A Quinnipiac University survey conducted Jan. 24 to Jan. 27 showed McCain at 32 percent and Romney at 31 percent -- a statistical dead heat. Giuliani, at 14 percent, and Huckabee with 13 percent battled for third place in the Quinnipiac poll.

Given the tightness of the race, neither the McCain or Romney campaign was willing to predict victory today. "It's going to very close," said McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker. Kevin Madden, national spokesman for Romney, was only slightly more expansive. "Florida will be a close race and I expect the result will help us as we continue to build momentum towards February 5 and the delegates at stake that day," Madden predicted.
I've put up a few quick-posts on the right-wing controversy over McCain/Romney, here, here, here, here, and here.

I'll a have post-election update tonight.